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Episode 6

transformed: What 2020 Taught Us and How to Accelerate Forces in 2021

Higher Digital has just published the next installment of its new audio interview feature, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promise represented by both. 

Higher Digital President Joe Gottlieb sat down with CEO and co-founder Wayne Bovier to chat about what 2020 taught us and how to accelerate forces in 2021. Covid-19 brought about swift technology changes and many higher ed leaders must now make what they learned out of a necessity, more sustainable in regards to digital transformation.

Joe Gottlieb: 0:02

Hello, and welcome to another Higher Digital podcast. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president of Higher Digital. And today I am joined once again by Wayne Bovier, our co-founder and CEO. Welcome Wayne.

Wayne Bovier: 0:15

Thanks, Joe. It’s great to be with you today. What do you want to talk about?

Joe Gottlieb: 0:19

Well, we had planned to talk about 2020 in review and a 2021 outlook. And we should still talk about that, but I can’t help, but talk about what’s going on right now in Washington and how it relates to higher ed in 2021. So let’s start with that. I mean, this is a crazy time

Wayne Bovier: 0:37

And it certainly puts it, you know, starts to kind of put a, put a cherry on top of, you know , looking back in 2020 and for those that are listening here higher digital is headquartered in the DC Metro area. And so for me, I spent a lot of time last night, probably like most citizens in the United States and even in the world staying glued to the television and just kind of in awe about what we’re ultimately witnessing. And so, you know , we’re not going to dive into kind of the politics on this particular podcast, but you know, one of the things, you know, there’s multiple lenses that you could look through and evaluate the, what we saw on television yesterday. And it, it’s hard to kind of keep the emotions in many cases on either side kind of intact about what you’re seeing, but, you know, for me, one of the lenses that I looked through and given what we do for higher digital and focusing on higher education, you know, the lens that I looked through, it was really about education and in particular, and this will obviously be a theme as we run through this particular podcast. But, you know, one of the thoughts that really occurs to me is that when you, you know, when you take a colorblind approach to what you’re looking at, and you look at it through economic lens, right, you really start to see kind of a group of haves and have nots. And I fully recognize that, you know, I’m using a little bit of a broad brush and that there are always examples of nuances in there, but for the most part, you know, we are witnessing a, a real, I think, a strong relationship between, you know, and there’s been a lot of articles like in wall street journal and a lot of economic magazines over the last five to 10 years about, you know, those with high school degrees and how their earning potential has continually declined. And especially in when you think about manual labor, and when you’re talking about rural communities, which are littered all over this country, their inability, right. And I’m not saying inability as an individual inability, but their lack of , uh, access to funds, lack of support by government when they lose a job. Uh , and I’m not talking just healthcare and or unemployment benefits, I’m talking about really retraining. Um, and, and, you know, on the flip side, there’s a lot, as we’ve talked about before Joe , there’s a lot of opportunity, you know, with technology what’s happening in the world today is it really is making, and this is especially true. What we’ve realized in 2020 is that location for jobs are really becoming irrelevant in many cases, not, not across the board. And yes, you know, we, even, as a company in higher digital are going to get back to the office to some degree, and we’re going to get together on , uh , on occasion, but it certainly there’s no more ambiguity whether or not the, you know, we need to be side-by-side and office everybody like in the old, like eight Neo nine to five kind of kind of thinking. And so anyway, I look at those that stormed the Capitol and I really start to think about, huh, you know, there’s certainly behaving in certain , uh, in certain ways that are reminiscent of other countries that we’ve seen over decades. Right. And , and ultimately it is a driving force behind this as lack of, you know , economic , uh, advancement, right. And , uh, and, and, and feeling like you’re participating in the new, this new economy. And I think higher, higher education has an absolute critical role to play in the future. And, and if we’re going to overcome what we saw education and access to education, internet invest , you know, infrastructure and internet access to rural locations as absolutely has to be a center piece , uh, to, to overcome all this. I don’t know . What did , what are your thoughts? How, how, how are , how are you, how did you feel on , uh , on the West coast watching this?

Joe Gottlieb: 5:11

Yeah. So from our West coast outpost, you know, w whatever that brings with it, right? You might, you can, you can imagine various things. Um, and if you know me, you know, that I’ve, I’ve , um, uh, I live lean a little bit left and therefore this is a , this has been a , um, an odd journey to be on for sure. Um, and what I, what I was trying to challenge myself to do yesterday was really figure out what can be learned from this. Clearly, this is wrong. Clearly this is a reflection of , of unrest, of , um, dissatisfaction of , uh , you know, even extremism, but that extremism only can happen when there’s a root , as you said, it may , it may be a half not root. It may be a , um, uh, other fault lines caused this to happen, but there’s, as a , as a country, we need to figure out, figure this out. And I do agree that in a large part, education has a big role to play. And, and I think being able without it’s so easy to fear sounding condescending, and that it’s not, this is nothing about condescension. This is not, I mean, I, it’s not about that. It’s really, really understanding, okay, what are, what is the context of these people and how they grew up? Um, and when you start to ask those hard questions, you realize that , uh , a high emphasis has not been placed on education, not as much as people growing up with their background , oftentimes not always, but oftentimes, and when you don’t have that emphasis, or will you have other themes or other , um, other rhythms and other , uh, um, uh, patterns in family trees about where this is all coming from and how you identify what you worry about as you worry about people, not thinking on their own or not taking advantage of what’s available to grow and, and participate in, in our society, which has a lot to offer. And , and so I think, I think you hit it on the head. I think whereby a lot of, a lot of this community is sitting in rural areas where there’s a greater preponderance of this. It’s not , it’s not , it’s not exclusive to that, but the fact that location is becoming less relevant. And the fact that online education is becoming more available and more proven and more capable and more affordable. Um, this is a great opportunity for us to be, and when we say being color blind here, I think we’re using color blind now in the reverse of how it’s often used , right? This is figuring out how to help a category of people that are very disenfranchised with this country right now. And that’s why Trump came into, into office, I have to say, came into power, right? And that’s why Trump was able to incite activity yesterday as part of a rejection of the change that happened with the election. Um, we need to figure, you know, we need to go fix that root cause. And , and, and I do agree education can play a very strong role, but we need to help education reach to a category that hasn’t been our primary focus.

Wayne Bovier: 8:18

And I think, you know, I think that was well said. I , you know, one of the things that really kind of that, that stands out to me , um, on this and , and one of the themes that I see is this kind of anti-intellectualism right. The anti-science , um, it seems to be a very strong identity as part of that, that, that group , um, and, you know, I can’t help, but think back to, well, why is that? Um, and, and it really comes down to this word elitist , right. And when you about the historical structure of, of higher education , um, you know, it , it , it exists, it has a strong vein even today. Um, uh , but hopefully as we think about the 2020 and what has come about, and , and, and a recognition is that, you know, it is in everybody’s best interest to make lower the barriers , uh, to get an education and to , uh, both in costs and to access and all that. But I think the barriers that a lot of these folks see is that, that they, there’s a feeling and a strong, you know, resentment , um, about these elitists judging us, taking advantage of this, you know, have all this wealth and , and of this new technology and so on and so forth. And they ultimately feel left out. And , um, and I think, you know, again, you know, I, you know, being in the industry that we’re in , uh, I’m always, self-critical , I’m , I , you know , for those that listen, that , that don’t know me, you know , uh, an a Joe Wall test , I am a, self-critical , I’m self critical of myself. I’m self critical of us as a company, you know, and , and I do this because I think it’s a strength because that’s how you get better. And , um, and I think as an industry , um, the industry has played a part in this, this barrier between the haves and have nots. And I also think it has the potential to solve it.

Joe Gottlieb: 10:30

Totally agree. You know, we were talking earlier and out of the two of us, you’re the one that could remember the name of the book, hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. Uh , cause we were both thinking about how that, that is a , is a very useful story of a person who was , was growing up in Appalachia. I believe it was on just in the middle of, of a , of a , of a set of patterns and a lot of very warm, wonderful things about this person’s , uh, upbringing in life, but also some, some very disturbing things that we would very challenging for this person and reflected the challenges that can occur , um, uh, both in poverty and in a lack of access to opportunities, et cetera, et cetera. And, and I, I just, I agree with you that the , the discomfort , uh, created by this leadism , um, perpetuates the cycle. It’s what causes it . It’s what causes people to, to not want to identify with that, but also to be intimidated by that and to resort, to other behaviors that identify it , it could only cause someone to run for a safe Haven from that experience. And I can relate to this. I, I, when I was , um , still pretty young, I was, let’s see what age was I? I was 11 and I moved from Southern California to a rural town in Oklahoma. And I experienced this firsthand. I was very focused on getting the best education that I could, and that was not what I was surrounded by largely. I was surrounded by people that had a very different , uh , orientation and they, and notably they weren’t necessarily unhappy at this time because, because this issue had not been so surfaced as a divisive issue , um, at that time, and there were undercurrents for sure, but it was a lot less so, right. And so it wasn’t so much about one, one thing being superior to the other. It just was a very different sort of context that way people related. And I could feel firsthand how, in this case I was the odd person out in a lot of cases. I was the one that could be made fun of for being a nerd and caring so much about college because in that such connect context, it was less cool for sure. Now that’s not true of all places and it’s not true of all rural places. And that’s true of all places in Oklahoma. I don’t, I don’t want to be extreme in any way, but , um, I could relate this to this just a little bit by that that elite ism , um, and the alternate forces that happen when, when, when that is present.

Wayne Bovier: 13:05

Yeah. It’s, it’s, it, it is absolutely complex. Right. And , and, and you’re exactly right. And, you know, I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Um, and so, you know, in many ways I have , uh , had very similar experiences and , um, and you know, it’s , uh, yeah, it’s hard to, it’s hard to pin this on one particular thing, but if I can, you know, if I can kind of segue a little bit into kind of, you know, taking this particular topic and put us in a little bit more context, right. So when we talk about accessibility, right, we talk about , um, you know, how do you move from high school education to get something more advanced? Well, the front lines of that are community colleges. And when you look back upon 2020, right, there are some interesting statistics and things that we’ve learned that really kind of come to light. And the first one is that , um, community colleges across the United States as a whole has seen approximately a 20% decline in enrollment, which is, you know, for those, you know, that are , that may be listening, that is a devastating loss of revenue. Um, institutions, you know, could handle, you know, a couple of percentages points , uh, laws, but from a budget perspective, a 20% deduction , um, that, that, that causes some serious ripple effects and, you know, on the surface. Okay. So when you compare that, right, which in and of itself, you’re like, okay, well, that’s interesting, but what about the rest of the industry? Well, when you start to look at some of the other institutions that have invested in , in kind of outreach, you know, a couple of our clients like Southern New Hampshire and university of Maryland global campus to name the name too, but they’re not the only ones they have actually seen a growth in enrollment, right? So there’s, there are institutions that have actually done quite well in 2020 during the pandemic years when people are like, wondering, am I getting the value out of the education because I’m not there in person and so on and so forth. So, you know, there’s some interesting things about that. So I stepped back and I w I, I, you know, one, I’m intellectually curious, and then I’ve also dug into some, some articles about this, about w w what is it about community colleges? How is that possible? Well, now you’ve parked to layer in the pandemic, right? And the, the, the disruption to our lives, right. You know, you and me and our families, we can kind of carry on from our, you know, from our, our newly , uh , design kind of office space that used to be our TV room and my house. And, you know, these are types of things that we were able to continue to, to add value in our careers and so on. But most people , uh, especially in smaller towns, if they, if the , if the , if they can’t drive to the institution they have now their kids at home, you know, there’s all these other obligations that now they’re, they’re kind of out of the educational , uh , stream. And, you know, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of research about , uh, at, at negative. It actually comes out being negative is that once you pull out of the education stream, it’s really difficult to get back in. And it’s , and it really is, you know, again, kind of what we were just talking about. There’s complex factors of why that is , um, some of it is personal, but it’s, you know, there’s a , um, inertia, you know, I , I think is probably the biggest thing is that once you kind of do a pattern, it’s like, Oh , I got to get back to that. Right. So it’s barrier after barrier. And so I think it’s a pretty strong tell , um, what has happened in this past year, you know, when you look at higher education and enrollment, and you start to look at it in the context of what we started this conversation out, which was, you know, the, the, the events of January 6th in Washington, DC. Um, it, it was, you know, I definitely drew a line , uh, as I was watching this last night

Joe Gottlieb: 17:07

And community colleges, aren’t the only ones that have felt this contraction. In fact, arguably many community colleges are going to feel the real impacts of this in one to two years as their funding formulas , uh, sort of reflect , um, this enrollment , uh , decrease , uh, particularly if it’s not , uh , reversed, hopefully soon, vis-a-vis the vaccine , um, private institutions that are feeling this contraction , uh, are , are, are typically on a more immediate sort of budget and cashflow , um , oriented model, and they’re dependent upon their reserves. And, and we’ve seen strain there for sure as, and so I think Zoe zoom out on this, this sort of scenario, and think about all higher ed institutions as , um , as an industry, right. You’re going to see a real portfolio of, of, of different in terms of there are some institutions that have been able to take a bet they made on online either as a, as their so strategy or as a , um, already an expansion strategy that was already having fruitful effects prior to the, to the pandemic. Those institutions have fared quite well on the opposite extreme, you have, you know, tuitions that were now consumed by the quick response of trying to get things remote online, you know , remote learning going on . That was, they were already struggling perhaps with other value challenges in, in the education mode . And then they’re in danger of, of, of , um, uh , folding, right, frankly, right. That’s the other extreme. And in between, you’ve got a really broad swath of different versions of how institutions are coping with this challenge. And I would say that’s where we’ve done our most thinking in terms of helping every institution grapple with the tactics of responding to this, and simultaneously advancing themselves through some triage and some work to, to, to just keep things online, keep delivering education as best they can look to tactically improve that through learnings that they can have from that direct new striking experience. While increasingly because now we’ve been through a couple of different rhythms, there was the, there was the, what are we going to do about spring term then over the summer, how we could prepare for fall now we’re in the fall. So we’ve already gone through a couple of planning , uh , rhythm points, right. Of dealing with the pandemic. And so necessarily institutions , I have had to balance a little bit of planning and a little bit of tactical response as a portfolio of action. Right. And I know that there , and that can be shattering if you, if you, you aren’t changing, if you weren’t evolving, but at the same time, it can be also, it also can be , um, it can be stretching and going to , it can enable a growth, right. That will allow people to sort of alright , pick themselves up and through it. And I think we’ve seen a lot of that. And the great thing is, is that there’s a, there’s a passion about education that threads through these institutions. And that I think helps a lot teams overcome very, very overwhelming , uh, disruptions and challenges and respond as needed to cope with this pattern and this combination of tactics and sort of strategic change response as they try to move along this continuum towards a point of not just survival, but trying to thrive in a changing market.

Wayne Bovier: 20:57

Yeah. I think that’s , I think that’s exactly right. I think, you know, this is part of the reason I love working in higher education. Right. You know , across the board. And this is, that goes pretty much for every country that we’re, you know, we’ve worked with institutions in , you know, is that everybody’s heart is generally in the right place. Right. And this is, there’s a common goal about good and how education can help the growth of not only individuals, but the, the, the broader ramifications around the society and so on. But, you know, w w w you know, I mentioned inertia also mentioned culture, right? And those are two , uh, extremely strong forces that are inhibiting , uh, leaders. Uh, you know, inertia not only is about, you know, maybe your staff is, is resisting. You, you know, the common joke around in higher ed is a faculty’s resistance of a lot of change. Well , uh , you know, that that’s for another podcast, but, you know, there’s some truth to that, but I also have some sympathy for the faculty and what has been the demands that have been placed on the faculty for the last 20 years in particular, when it comes to technology. And so, you know, I , I really am heartened by, you know , leaders like president Paul Leblanc at Southern New Hampshire, you know, Southern New Hampshire this past, you know, over the, I forget when it was exactly announced, but it was certainly within the last six months, he announced an initiative about lowering the cost and being , uh , being the institution of Southern New Hampshire, being committed to lowering the cost and providing more access. And, and so again, when you look historically , um, at higher education , um, you know, even community colleges, but I would, I would, you know, I would kind of question whether it’s true or not, but beyond certainly the four year colleges are viewed as elite as them. I didn’t get the grades. I can’t get in that doors close to me forever is kind of this legacy, both attitude in many ways within an institution. And certainly if you were on the receiving end of a , uh , you didn’t get accepted notice, you certainly feel that way. Right. And you’re , you, you feel like close . The reality is that world is, is, is, is dead . Like we’re in this transition where , um, institutions and us as individuals have to be on a path of continuous learning, this idea that you’re going to graduate high school or college and stay in a particular job in a career for the next 30, 40 years. And without retraining, without more education is silly, right. It is, is that you have to be , um, you have to be continuously learning and I would actually argue part of what we’re doing. Right. Uh, we’ve certainly, I’ve certainly talked to a lot of presidents and boards about this is that no institutions are great at teaching. They’re terrible at learning, and they have to learn how to learn. Right. And so , um, and so, you know, there’s, there’s certainly movement , um, you know, in pockets, but I think that there needs to be a, and I’m hoping 2020 really has, has accelerated , uh, this realization, I think without COVID, I think there’s a , I’m going to try to be an optimistic view on this, but without COVID, it probably would’ve taken another 10 years through for, as the industry to start to really realize and embrace , um, the importance of technology and particular for reach, for retraining, for costs, for accessibility, for equity, right. You know, that’s another part to this is that, you know, education should be available to everybody that wants it, that needs it. Um, and it shouldn’t be an elitist thing. And so this is why I get so passionate about technology, really, you know, being an enabler, it’s not technology, and this is , uh , this is a misunderstanding, but technology and investing in technology in strategic ways for, for , uh , higher education institutions, it’s not about job loss. It’s , it’s, it’s not about, Hey, we’re going to replace , we’re going to automate this. So we’re going to fire, you know , 20 people. This is not about that at all. In fact, when you, actually, when you read some of the analysis over the last 20 years, the cost growth within higher education is unequivocally , uh , uh, attributed to administrative overhead. And the growth of administrative overhead has been profound in the last 20 years. And so, you know, and I stepped back and asked , well , why is that? Well, and again, I’m going to use a big broad brush, but in general, it is, has to do with the fact that most of these institutions are not leveraging the automation capabilities of their existing software that they already, Oh , they are actually plugging in humans because they can, and, and then they are exacerbating a very manual process, which on the consumer end, we all know how frustrating it is to walk into a DMV and wait forever to get, to get your license processed . Well, it’s primarily all because it’s manual and you have to physically show up there. So, you know, so anyway, I, anyway, so Joe, I’m curious to kind of get your reaction to that.

Joe Gottlieb: 26:35

Well, two things I want to come back to Southern New Hampshire university, because you pointed out their declaration, their announcement that they’re to they’re lowering the cost of education. And , uh , you know, it , it causes me to just blurt out when has that happened before in education, it doesn’t happen, but it happens in other industries when you have a new entrant that is willing to compete on a new value plane. And, and in this case, I think there’s a lot of very , um, it’s not all about greed for , for SNU , but it is about evolution and delivering a more valuable product and a commitment to do that in the, in the name of accessibility, but I’m going to hijack it, whether or not it’s, what’s motivating them and stayed out loud. It is a form of our market mature , and there’s going to be more of this. And , and , and there will be market share transitions because of other players being able to do this well. And it, it also, it reminds me of a big trend that I w that we saw gaining velocity in 20, 20, 2020, whereby the emergence of the certificate, particularly for high-tech labor jobs is becoming a very, very , um, important and, and growing , uh , part of the marketplace. Right. And let me elaborate. Right? So actually Microsoft announced a big initiative. They , they did a bunch of research and they announced a big initiative to try to fill the labor gap that they saw occurring over the next several years to 2025. They call out the fact that they believe there’s going to be 149 million high-tech oriented jobs, not, not high high-tech like digitally oriented jobs , um, over the next several years that the planet is going to require, and they’ve gone out and they’ve started actually furnishing training and certificate based programs to be able to allow people to come learn a new, I’m going to call it a digital trade without getting a classic degree. Now, Microsoft and others, Google is doing this to Google. Google rolled out four different certificate based programs on Coursera. Um, you know, they, they include things like it, support specialist, as an example, a lot of it, sports specialists are needed, right? Huge, huge thing, but it also includes data analyst type roles, right. Which can have very nice earning potential, but here’s the point. The point is this is becoming the fastest pathway to an earning opportunity in the new digital economy faster, even than community college, community college and four-year degrees. And for that matter, you know, graduate degrees are all built on a notion that we can take somebody really let them spend full time learning a bunch of diversified skills that we decided at least a hundred years ago, and a little bit more right. Actually way longer than a hundred years ago, right. Are going to be useful for our society. Well, society can no longer afford to force all of its workforce through that. So what happened? We had the trades that the , that the, the, and at the time there were called, there were, it was tech trades, but it wasn’t technology, right. It was like, it was like heavy machinery and manufacturing. These were the trades that emerged to fill a gap because a lot of people didn’t have the opportunity to go, go full time and become educated and get the well-roundedness that we decided we wanted for our managers and our leaders of our enterprises and our organizational agencies , uh, our government agencies. Okay. And so now I believe we’re going to see more and more of this, and remote learning enables it to come to everyone. And this could be part of the solution, but what higher ed institutions need to be paying attention to is how are they going to participate in that? How are they going to disintermediate themselves and say, we’re going to offer up some things that aren’t reliant upon the way that we package education in the past. And I would use a little analogy, which I know has some holes, it’s not a perfect fit, but when the music industry blew up the album as the primary unit of purchase, it, it, and it didn’t get there via, you know, it kinda got there an awkward way because of Napster and all that. Right. So it was kind of forced into this. It reluctantly examined this calculus, right? Well, when I finally gave in, ultimately something happened, it actually produced more consumption of music rather than less, they more than made it up in volume. And I believe the numbers bear this out. Certainly anecdotally, it feels that way. So I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, right? They’ve more than made up . I think you’re right. I think you’re totally right . Guess what, regardless of whether they did it didn’t matter because those claim to the album, as the unit of purchase, just had to cope with the fact that no one wanted to move . A lot of people didn’t want to buy a whole album. Right. And so a lot of people can’t afford to buy a whole degree today. They need to buy a certificate to go participate in the digital economy and employers like Microsoft, like Google are getting into the business of education and a necessity to go fill this gap. And higher ed institutions should respond to this by bringing their capability to go get those guys out of the business of education, because presumably higher ed could be better at it.

Wayne Bovier: 32:21

Interestingly enough, I saw a headline today. I haven’t had time to dig into it, but I saw some headline that , uh, highlighted the fact that there’s a group of liberal arts institutions, you know, private, liberal arts institutions that are actually starting to expand beyond their traditional four-year degree and to look at certificates and, you know, to your point , um, I, I would bet any, any, you know, any amount of money that the executives at Google and Amazon and others , um, didn’t want to do this. They don’t want to be in the industry of education, you know, but what they were seeing as they, you know, there needs to grow as a company, you know, they have all these jobs that are, they are unable to fulfill because they can’t find the talent and experience , uh, uh, at all. And so they’re, they’re, they’re, they’re, you know, they’re filling it. Right. And so to your point, you know, on, well, I would also venture to say that those executives would actually prefer institutions to do this, so they don’t have to. Right. And so, right. So, so I think , um, you know, it’s going to happen, right? Institutions, there are going to be institutions that are going, that are doing this, and we’ll need to do this. And again, the big challenge is inertia and culture within an institution, regardless of the type of institution that you are, you have to kind of throw away this elitist attitude saying, you know, it’s funny how I’ve evolved on this subject. And now let me give you an example. You know, when I, when I was back researched in college, when I was in high school, I’m like, Oh, they have a 20% acceptance rate or, you know, in terms of it . And they would always boast , and it’s still that way today. Right. We have a, you know, we only accept the best and the brightest. And so, you know, it makes me cringe a little bit because I know the need across society and both in the industry. And so on that, that is really outdated. Like, okay, fine. You have a certain academic quality, you know, that you want, you know , in terms of rigor and stuff that you need to be able to bring in students that can perform at a certain level. But I also think it’s, self-fulfilling in many ways that, you know, self perpetuating , um, for an institution. And again, it goes back to this, you know, historic way we’re as an industry, you know, and , and technology is really driving this point home just like it has another industries, but it is, you know, it is making things more efficient, more equitable, you know, it’s improving the access and either you’re gonna fight it, or you’re gonna , you’re gonna jump on and figure out how to best leverage and harness this for your, your institution and your mission.

Joe Gottlieb: 35:18

You know, what, as you say that I , I , um , I totally agree with you, but I also feel like if I’m listening to this sitting in a higher ed institution grappling with the challenges that I have day to day, and whether I’m in it, or I’m on the business side, you know, hearing this technique, allergy is the panacea message is so easy to reject because it’s not true. But what is true is that there are going to be plenty of leaders in the market that figure out how to utilize technology to not only make their institutions more efficient, but also even more effective at teaching. And, you know, you, you mentioned this, the , the, the, the, the cringy nature of institutions selectivity in the admissions process. And I , I can relate to this. I , my youngest is right now, he’s a senior in high school. He’s waiting to hear back from what your school’s he’s right in the middle of that. And the dialogue in our household, it unavoidably winds up referring to this institution is so-and-so selective. They only accept, you know, 18% of applicants, but this one will they’re down at like 14%. And I , I always try to point out look because of the demand, guess what demand for education has been reasonably high, right? Because the market, it has , uh , come to understand that college education is valuable. You can earn more. It’s just a , it’s a good thing. Right. Um, and so that’s produced a lot of demand that have allowed a lot of institutions across the board to become more selective, just because there’s more demand relative to the supply. Hasn’t made them better institutions. And when I, when I, when I catch my household, at least , um , using selectivity as a proxy for value or, or worthy brand value in the, in the pecking order of institutions, I go crazy. Now I’m a little bit proud of my Alma mater and all, but the point is, is that I think that is a distraction that’s been enabled. And guess what the solvency of many institutions has been enabled by this, this, this demand , um, fortune in terms of the need for four . And so , um , great market hides, a lot of warts in any industry. And so I think what we’re finding now is this, the reversal, the , the, the, the pressures of COVID have challenged a lot of institutions, and now those warts are getting exposed. How good are you at delivering education? And if, if now a student has to sit and wonder, is it worth the value because I’m going to get getting it remotely. Uh, I’m going to be, I have an opportunity to be more discerning about it’s becoming more, it’s socially acceptable to perhaps take a gap year or say, you know, I’m not, I’m not jumping back into that for that price, right? And so there’s a new reckoning happening here. And what I’d like to bring it back to then is for 20, 21, how are institutions going to continue to grapple and become more effective at not just prison , assuming that there’s a panacea or a silver bullet out there, but really this is about strategic change management on the business side. That brings technology along within the context of how the institution is grappling with its investments, with its choices, it’s leadership, it’s focus. It’s not about how do we pray for technology to be the salvation of our challenges today, right. It’s gotta be leadership first, right.

Wayne Bovier: 39:03

That’s exactly right. And I think, you know, in you , you, and I’ve certainly have had many conversations about this, but, you know, for those that are listening, you know, technology is not a silver bullet and it isn’t just, Hey, you just need to buy this new software and you call it a day. That actually has been the problem. And, and so, you know, going forward, it is looking at technology through the strategic lens. And I would actually even argue that , um, you know, institutions , uh, for, for many reasons, actually, haven’t been required to really think, be strategic. And what I mean by that is if you spend enough time looking at and reading in institutions of all types , uh, their strategic plan, and most of the institutions out, out there, and especially in United States, they’re all available. And I will guarantee you that if you read enough of them, you’re like, you’re going to come away and understand like , Oh , they’re all the same. They all say the same thing. They’re , they’re pretty high level pre lack of details, lack of timelines, lack of, you know , uh, results if you don’t miss it, or if you miss it, you know, so on and so forth. So, you know, this is really about creating a new organization, a new culture that actually can think strategically and understand the power that technology brings , uh, and the opportunity to affords . And so I have some really good news here, right? And this is something that, again, you know, we’re optimists , um, when we work with our clients of all , all different types, the good news is if you spend enough time with technology, you realize that you can, you can get into the game pretty quickly and make pretty quick strides and what making, doing simple, that making simple decisions. So it doesn’t have to be complicated. Uh, it doesn’t have to take, you know, 24 months to figure out what to do. Um, there are easy, simple steps that are going to have enormous impact both on your operations, on how you, how you , uh, align around your strategy, how you execute on that. And most importantly, you know, for prospects , students, faculty, and staff, you know, getting them engaged, providing the services that they expect. And, you know, some, you know, some wise person said to me a long ago that , um, that technology is , uh, it is a great equalizer, right? And so this is something that , uh, that is really going to be, you know, I think for those institutions that, that really embrace this and make it and want and commit to their , uh, their mission, right, is that they have to think of this technology in strategic ways. But it’s an, it’s, it’s an ongoing life cycle . There is no end game. You have to start with one step, right. It’s like that old adage of how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time? It’s the same concept.

Joe Gottlieb: 42:13

Yeah. I think, you know, one of the, one thing that might be helpful for audience is just that again, I keep that sounds, that sounds good, but, but, but what, what’s the, what’s the trick and there’s no, there’s no silver bullet. There’s no trick here. But what I continue to see as the pattern is that we started, we started with one of these themes, right? Just sort of the intimidation or the alleviation factor technology comes with its own brand of elite ism and intimidation. Right. And, and it can have the effect of leaders of institutions can feel affected by that. And they could choose to, they could choose to stay away from it and not confront their discomfort with technology. They could choose to not at this point in their careers, you know , make an effort to start to learn even just a little bit more about it. Um, or they could say, you know what, I’m a leader because I’ve come to, I I’ve gotten good at delegation. I’ve gotten good at collaboration and stimulating, you know, stimulating change and effectiveness in my organization. And it letting technology be part of that stew is that to me, is the, is the trick. It’s just saying, Hey, technology may be this new thing that is a little bit intimidating, but there are people that know it better than you. You have them on your team, but as a leader, mixing them in to the strategic decision, decision, making progress, and then iterating like you would do with things that are more comfortable to you every year, you figure out what courses are going to be offered and what your faculty roster is going to look like every, you know, every year you think a bit about how you’re going to continue to make sure you maintain accreditation every year. You think about how to balance your budget, right? Like these are things that are more familiar. You have specialists in all those areas, but as leaders, we’ve just gotten more comfortable with it because it’s, it’s less mythical, it’s less unknown to us. Technology just needs to become more of a, one of these components of the way we operate a business and it’s going to be everywhere. And we have to be more comfortable to saying, Hey, let’s get those people to the party let’s iterate. And then let’s review, right. And let’s be leaders and managers. And

Wayne Bovier: 44:29

As an example, exactly what you’re saying within higher education, I have a close friend , um, who , uh, was the CIO of one institution, has just recently taking a new position. And it’s, you know, it’s a sizeable institution, 15, 20,000 students , uh, in , uh, in Indiana. And, you know, I, he told me the news before, you know, before it became public. And, and so I did a little bit of research. And when I looked at the org chart, it wasn’t clear where the CIO reported it. They didn’t actually have a box. They had a whole bunch of work chart, right. With boxes on it. Um, and so when I had the opportunity to talk to them , end of last week, I asked him about that as like, who are you reporting to? And interestingly enough, when he started the interview process, which has been a long process, it started last summer. Uh, he said it was originally , uh, under the VP of finance, which, you know, very traditional, that is old-school traditional higher ed, but interestingly enough, during this process, and they didn’t tell them until the very end that it changed, they actually moved this position, reporting into the president. And it’s, I think it’s for exactly this , the recognition that COVID has produced. Um, and this is kind of the good news if, you know, in, in, in kind of wrapping up this podcast is that, you know, there’s, COVID has done a lot of good things in many ways, you know, at least what the impact that it has is painful. Yes. There’s been a lot of real challenges , uh, around this, but again, looking at it through optimistic light is that it’s accelerated our understanding and recognition of the importance and role that, that technology plays in the competition ones in an institution’s mission,

Joe Gottlieb: 46:16

You know, at the risk of being a little controversial , um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna add something to this very topic , um, and that is this, this should not be a binary thing. So success is not dependent upon the CIO reporting to the president or the CEO, right. And being in that cabinet. And here’s why just like in any other organizational context, right, organizations are a reflection of people and relationships and operating models. And at the end of the day, some CEOs are, are good fits with the cabinet and some are not. And that, and some may choose not to be. And , and, and so for, for us to just sort of say that the prescription equals you gotta find a way to be on that cabinet or your institution can’t succeed is wrong because just like in other areas where no , no, no, no, this works really well. We have a , uh , a senior person that is on the cabinet in this organizational structure does a fantastic job, fusing business and technology. And that , and the CIO that we have is awesome at execution and is not the fusion point. Right. So I’m just gonna throw that out as though as a , I want to , it’s really an encouragement of all institutions to not have to look at this as binary, because if you, if you did, you, you , you’d kind of wind up maybe distorting your organization in relation to what you have to work with or what’s going on.

Wayne Bovier: 47:44

I, I, first of all, I think that’s fair. I love all, I love you, you know, and I love it when you’re controversial because you and I can debate any particular topic for a long time and have a lot of fun with it. You know, I , let me be even clear. I think, I think, you know , for the audience, I think that’s exactly right, but here’s, here’s the thing is you have to be realistic about your culture. And let me be really clear , uh, almost every institution in particular leadership up until let’s say end of 2019, all right, I’m going to put an asterisk around 2020 and the recognition that this has caused. Uh, but prior to that , uh, leaders , uh, across the board, presidents and boards in particular chancellors , uh, have actually taken a very hands-off approach with technology and they’ve delegated it. And here’s the problem. You can’t do that. Because again, we started this conversation in many ways about culture and institutions and , uh, and the need to change, and that has to come from the top. And so if you historically have operated where technology is just kind of a cost center, it’s, it’s a, you know, it’s no different than a fax machine or a laptop. Uh you’re you know, you’re , you’re, you’re stuck, right. And so you have to think much more strategically. And so that’s, that’s the only point, and I’m glad you raised it. Um, and I think this is important for the audience to understand there is no plug and play, but you have to lead by example. And if right.

Joe Gottlieb: 49:19

Yeah. So let’s be clear about terminology. Cause we said earlier that delegation is good. I don’t want to , I don’t want to confuse, I think , um, what you, I think what you meant to say was that leadership has not included technology as part of the deliberations that they engage to run the institution that cannot be excluded. It’s gotta be included now delegating to people that know it is required actually to be a good leader, right? You , you can’t, you can’t wait until you’ve learned it all or you can’t sort of not do it because you don’t feel comfortable with it. You’ve got to invite it into the deliberation, but having people that can represent it properly is very, very essential. Now to your point, you’re quite right because of the history erring on the side of, including in the deliberation is going to typically require having someone in the cabinet that is from that domain, typically the CIO at your organization. And so I don’t mean to suggest anything other than that, I , I was trying to open, open up to the possibility that there may be other modalities and organization structures.

Wayne Bovier: 50:24

Absolutely. Here’s a , here’s another example, right? One of our clients do UNGC . Um, they have a CIO and they just created a chief digital officer role. The chief CIO , I was focused on the execution, working hand in hand with the chief digital officer who’s responsible for, you know , uh, corralling all the different demands of all different departments and starting to rationalize the , the technology investments that they’re making. Uh, and why.

Joe Gottlieb: 50:54


Yeah, well, let’s, I think that’s a good place to bring this to an end. You know, there’s , uh , a lot of , um, we’ve talked about the challenges that have been wrought by, COVID really a bit of a sea change, an acceleration of change and acceleration of the embrace of the necessity of technology, if not even at your own organization , um, as is evidenced by the market, evolving more rapidly. Um, and so everyone is acknowledged that in all industries and in particular, in higher ed, where there had been reluctance to change, there have been more complex than usual barriers to change. And, and, and so COVID has really rattled this the system quite a bit. Um, but looking forward into 2021, I think the key here will be to iterate and grapple and deliberate and, and then work with your teams to be continued , to make progress. COVID has already brought you there now as a li as leadership teams, we need to make, make what we’ve learned at a necessity now become more sustainable. And so , um, I want to , let’s bring this one to a close. It’s been great spending some time together with you, Wayne again , um, thanks to our guests for joining us as well. We wish you all the best in 2021. And we’ll look forward to hosting you again.

Wayne Bovier: 52:16

Okay . Thanks to Byron.

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About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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